16 Pregnancies in 45 Years: Tragic Death of MP Woman is a Comment on Our Health Awareness


16 Pregnancies in 45 Years: Tragic Death of MP Woman is a Comment on Our Health Awareness

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Access to adequate healthcare and knowledge remains an acute problem in many parts of India. With health infrastructure still trying to catch up with demand and conversations around certain health issues remaining muted, it has often led to heartbreaking consequences for families.

That was the case with Sukhrani Ahirwar from Madhya Pradesh, who died during childbirth. She was pregnant for the 16th time. Her newborn child also died.

Ahirwar was in her 32nd week of pregnancy when she went into preterm labor. By the time the ambulance reached her house, the 45-year-old had delivered the baby and was unconscious. The baby was still-born. Ahirwar was rushed to a government hospital five kilometers away, where she was declared dead. The case has drawn attention towards lack of awareness and limited access to health infrastructure in India beyond the cities.

“I tried convincing my mother to get sterilised but she and my father did not agree. I told her about how I myself had registered for sterilisation without informing my in-laws and got operated upon,” her daughter Savitha told The Indian Express, recollecting her last visit to her mother two years back.

Health officials had also confronted the Ahirwars on this issue. According to RR Bagri, Chief Medical Officer of Batiyagarh civic hospital, Sukhrani was advised sterilisation after her 15th pregnancy. “But she was hesitant and thought that she had already crossed 40 and would soon hit menopause. If her daughters had been with her, they could have convinced her,” said Bagri. When asked why he didn’t support her sterilisation, her husband Dullah claims she didn’t have the “courage” to go through with it.

Dr Sangeeta Trivedi, Damoh district’s chief medical and health officer pointed out that, “She has eight living children, the eldest is about 23 years old and the youngest is two. She had seven spontaneous abortions over the years.” Health officials claim that two years ago, they tried to persuade the husband to have a vasectomy, but he refused. “The husband was uncooperative and asked the health officials to not interfere in his personal matter,” Trivedi told Zenger News.

According to a UNICEF report, “Coverage of life-saving health interventions and practices remains low due to gaps in knowledge, policies, and availability of resources. In a few areas, there is a gap between the rich and the poor and an urban and rural divide. Access to health services is often dependent on a family’s or mother’s economic status and where they reside.” In India, the burden of family planning has traditionally been borne by women, even though vasectomy or male sterilisation is much simpler than female sterilisation.

Mumbai based gynaecologist Dr. Duru Shah pointed out that “awareness of contraception is there, but the access may be a problem. What we have observed is that there is plenty of awareness among women, even in rural areas, but there is little awareness seen among men.” When he was president of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India, members had visited over 100 towns in five states to spread awareness about safe motherhood and to conduct health camps. “We interviewed nearly 100,000 women and found that they wanted sterilisation. Women are aware, but there are other problems [such as] they may not have the right to refuse, or their husband may get abusive if they demand sterilisation,” Shah said.

While we may have pipe dreams about a $5 trillion economy and Digital India, there are basic problems that we still need to fix, like access to good health infrastructure and increased health awareness for all citizens. The fact that conversations around planned pregnancy, sterilisation and vasectomy aren’t mainstream yet, and there is still ignorance or taboo associated with it, indicates that we have a long way to go.